When Larry Fletcher explains the thinking behind the GoControls project management system to electrical contractors, he likes to describe his company's Web-based tool as a "fax machine" on steroids.

The key difference, said Fletcher, the president of the Denver-based GoControls, is that while fax machines are great for sending and receiving requests for proposals (RFPs), bills of materials and other paper-based documents, GoControls puts all of this paperwork into an electronic format so electrical contractors and electrical distributors can use it to manage their businesses more effectively.

"The data that used to be written on the page of a fax can now be manipulated," he said. "You can track your wins and track the orders."

Key features of this online scorecard for the electrical contractor include the ability to analyze their "hit ratio" on quotations by a wide range of variables; check on distributor performance such as delivery timeliness and pricing; and get timely analysis of purchasing trends by vendor, product type and job type.

To accomplish this, the system uses a task-based job management philosophy, Fletcher said. "The main theory here is to help electrical contractors manage their business by the task instead of how it was managed before, which was by the process," he said. "Guys aren't breaking their jobs down into manageable tasks. They don't know what they spend on materials on any single task. This system is going to tell them that."

The system allows electrical contractors to create a bill of materials with a few clicks of a mouse and to then track all transaction data online. This approach gives the contractor and the distributor online access to related purchasing data. Electrical contractors can use the system to automate the entire process of finding and bidding on projects and manage data such as project lists, request for information (RFI) and submittals.

Once the contractor selects a distributor to supply a job, the two companies rely on the online job ticket to tell them when to expect deliveries, job completion dates and other important information. Since it's Web-based, the system runs remotely on GoControls' hardware; users do not have to load it on their own computers. The system runs in parallel with users' existing business management software, but Fletcher said many users eventually will want to integrate it with their own business systems.

Tom Strauss, the company's senior vice president, says the GoControls system helps electrical distributors improve their inventory management by giving them better information on when their customers need the material on job sites. It also helps them track customer service variables such as timeliness of deliveries and ordering trends.

"Our system will allow distributors to log on and see exactly how they are doing by customer," adds Fletcher. "The flip side of that accountability is that the electrical contractor can log in and say, `Who is getting me my materials on time?'

"These things aren't intended to be hammers, they are intended to be business tools. Our industry right now is a reactive industry. Our system gives them proactive tools to truly manage what they are doing in a proactive fashion. The project manager can see from the job site what he is supposed to have delivered."

To help project managers do this, Strauss and Fletcher said the company will provide wireless access to this information so customers can manage their business from job sites via wireless modems connected to personal digital assistants or laptop computers. "Wireless communications in the field is a great piece, but you have to be able to consolidate that info to a hub," Fletcher said.

To develop a beta version of the system, GoControls relied heavily on members of Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC), Alexandria, Va., to see what they needed in a project management system. To gather this input, the company ran focus groups with dozens of IEC electrical contractors; recently GoControls has run focus groups with electrical distributors, too.

One of the ideas that the electrical contractors came up with is the system's cost structure. The system is free for all registered users until Jan. 1, 2001, but after that time it will cost electrical contractors a one-time fee of $40, and then $30 per project per month. Three free projects are included in the $40 initial fee. It will cost electrical distributors $150 per month per location. This includes five users per location; for companies that want to give more users access, it costs an additional $10 per user per location.

Fletcher said the system will cost much less than other project management systems now on the market, and that it's a reflection of the fact that most electrical contractors are relatively small companies. "You have to remember who your market is," he said. "Half of our industry probably can't afford to use a computerized estimating system." He adds that since electrical contractors can bill the use of the system as a pass-through job cost, it doesn't have to be an overhead expense.

In October, GoControls merged with SupplyWave.com, Salt Lake City, a developer of software that integrates with distributors' back-office systems such as pricing, project quotations and shipment tracking. The two companies plan to use the SupplyWave name in 2001.

TradePower launches B2B Digital Marketplace To simplify procurement processes and improve business efficiency, TradePower recently launched its B2B digital marketplace and integrated supply chain solution for the construction industry. TradePower's marketplace connects contractors and suppliers through a neutral, centralized and integrated environment that enhances information exchange and simplifies the purchase and sale of construction supplies. The exchange enables TradePower users to enhance customer satisfaction and improve business operations by reducing overhead costs and fulfillment errors.

More than just a Web site, the TradePower marketplace can be linked to distributors and contractors' existing desktop procurement, estimating and project management systems. This allows distributors and contractors to begin sharing information without having to overcome the challenges associated with training employees to use new methods of buying and selling construction supplies. For more information, visit www.tradepower.com.

VerticalBuyer launches portals for the electrical, datacom industries

VerticalBuyer, Inc., Billerica, Mass, a company involved in developing and publishing industry-specific Web sites, has launched online auction services and global news portals that address the business-to-business needs of the voice/data and commercial electrical industries. VerticalBuyer's two new Web sites, VoiceDataNews.com and ElectricalTimes.com, were introduced at NECA's show Sept. 24-26 in Seattle. Both sites will feature product searches, reverse auctions and a bulletin board on which companies can post press releases.

FindMRO.com selects bestroute.com as supplier

Find-MRO.com has selected bestroute.com LLC, Dewitt, N.Y., as a new supplier. FindMRO.com is a Grainger e-commerce procurement site specializing in hard-to-find indirect materials and sourcing solutions for businesses. The agreement will give FindMRO.com customers access to bestroute.com's stock of trade products, expected to reach up to 65,000 SKUs. In a separate announcement, bestroute.com said that electricalsearch.com, an industry-specific search engine, will be moved to bestroute.com's site.